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No. 4: Annie Hall

The film we love to love

Liel Leibovitz
December 09, 2011

1977, dir. Woody Allen. Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s Rosebud. It is the key to his obsessions, his being, the pure essence of his drive. The films that came before it were zany and charming. They entertained because they removed the bespectacled nebbish from his small shtetl of shrinks and anxieties and planted him in unlikely positions of power and influence, as the leader of futuristic space rebels or a fictitious Latin American country. But Annie Hall is a very different movie: Rather than apply a premise designed primarily for easy laughs, Allen chose to examine that most gnarled of human conditions—a romantic relationship.

Annie: We’re not having an affair. He’s married. He just happens to think I’m neat.

Alvy: “Neat.” What are you, 12 years old? That’s one of your Chippewa Falls expressions.

Annie: Who cares? Who cares?

The quivering, defensive statement; the cruel, belittling retort; the exasperated dismissal—here, in three short lines, is intimacy curdling, communication breaking down.

The balance between the deep thought and the easy laugh is a difficult one to strike. Allen never did it again. His very next film was 1978’s Interiors, a kind of Annie Hall without humor or charm. Then came a few other good films—Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters—that tried to follow the old formula but fell short. Then came awful years of letting go of inhibitions, on screen and in life. But we must forgive Woody Allen his caustic comedies, his dull dramas, his forays into sentimentality. We must forgive Woody Allen just about anything, because he gave us Annie Hall. We love this film. We lurve it. We loave it. We luff it.

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.